Group sets sights on disc golf course at Nelson Park South

By: Cortney Casey | Sterling Heights Sentry | Published November 6, 2012

 John Minicuci of Motor City Chain Gang walks the area in Nelson Park South, where he and his cohorts plan to construct a disc golf course using volunteers and donated funds.

John Minicuci of Motor City Chain Gang walks the area in Nelson Park South, where he and his cohorts plan to construct a disc golf course using volunteers and donated funds.

Photo by Donna Agusti


Disc golf fanatic John Minicuci has made courses for his beloved sport materialize across Michigan, from Detroit to Grayling.

But the one he’s still struggling to make a reality is in his own hometown.

Minicuci, who grew up in Sterling Heights but now lives in Troy, has been lobbying for nearly a decade to install a disc golf course at one of Sterling Heights’ parks.

“Believe me: You build it, they will come,” he said.

Parks and Recreation Manager Kyle Langlois said the now-defunct Recreation Advisory Committee got on board with the idea a few years ago, but there’s a catch: There’s no money and no staff available on the city’s end to assist.

Though the course was among recommended capital projects last year, it was jettisoned because it wasn’t of “utmost priority,” and the limited funding available was allocated to safety-related park renovations, said Langlois.

Minicuci, a representative of Motor City Chain Gang, a league of local disc golfers, is undeterred. With volunteers and donations, he said, he plans to make it happen.

He’s done it before, in cities with varying amounts of resources. He’s had lead or supporting roles in designing and constructing courses throughout the region, including in Detroit, St. Clair Shores, Beverly Hills, Shelby Township, Royal Oak and Leonard.

Minicuci estimates that constructing an 18-hole course at Nelson Park South, on 15 Mile, between Ryan and Dequindre, would require about $20,000 to cover course components like baskets and tee pads, plus supplies, fuel for construction equipment and more.

As he has a “day job,” Minicuci said he anticipates the project taking about two years — and Langlois said that’s fine by him, especially considering the amount of donated elbow grease that’s going into it.

Peaking popularity
When the Motor City Chain Gang originated in 1990, there were 30 members. Now about 120 members are active weekly, and nearly every weekend is booked with tournaments.

“It’s just monstrously grown,” said Minicuci, whose interest in disc golf was casually piqued in the 1980s but had morphed into heavy involvement by 2000.

The sport is played much like “ball golf,” as Minicuci calls it, with players progressing along fairways, aiming for chain baskets instead of holes, and obviously, using discs — like small Frisbees — instead of balls.

Part of the appeal, he said, is the sport’s inexpensive nature. Most courses nationwide offer free access, though a few are located within parks that have nominal entry fees.

“It’s a nice, low-cost family activity,” said Langlois. “A family can show up and play a round of disc golf without spending a dime.” 

And the equipment isn’t costly, either: “You can play with an $8 disc all day long,” said Minicuci.

Though the sky’s the limit for die-hards, a newcomer need not plunk down more than $30 at a typical sporting goods store to acquire a serviceable three-pack of discs: putter, mid-range and driver, he said.

The sport is also highly accessible to people of all ages and athletic levels. Even those with physical impairments, so long as they can navigate the terrain, can play, he said.

“You don’t have to be great at it,” said Sterling Heights resident George Sturm, a disc golfer and former carpenter who intends to help build the Nelson course. “You just have to enjoy hanging out outside, enjoying the weather and the scenery.”

Low-cost leisure
Minicuci said interest in a Sterling Heights disc golf course appeared low among Recreation Advisory Committee members when he initially approached them nine years ago. But he remained persistent, and they eventually warmed to the idea.

Jeff Norgrove — a disc golfer of 20 years who served on the committee and lives close to Nelson Park — said he’s thrilled that the course is edging closer to fruition and plans to be heavily involved in its development.

“If we had a nice enough course, we could be pulling people in from all over the nation to come to our tournaments,” he said.

Sterling Heights seemed a particularly appealing location because Minicuci “knew they had a lot of land,” he said. But discussions with city officials quickly whittled potential sites down to a handful.

Of the plethora of municipal parks, only Delia Park and Nelson Park South have the available land necessary to accommodate a tournament-level course, he said.

And while Delia, off of 18 Mile, would have been ideal geographically, it already had a jam-packed schedule of soccer and baseball, making the prospect of parking a nightmare, he said.

Minicuci said he and his crews will remove brush and dead and damaged trees, but leave as much of the natural features as possible.

“Even though it’s a big piece of property, it really isn’t when I put in 18 holes,” he said of Nelson Park South. “Everything’s going to be really wooded and really thick.”

Removing the fallen foliage often allows the remaining trees to thrive, he noted, and Norgrove said disc golfers appreciate densely wooded terrain because it cranks up the challenge level.

“The nice thing about this project, too, is it does not totally change the landscape of that property,” said Langlois. “Even if, somewhere down the road, disc golf becomes an activity that is not as prevalent as it is right now, we haven’t disrupted the property to a point where it can’t just grow back and become a wooded area.”

Minicuci also has a private sector project pending in Sterling Heights: installing a disc golf course along Sunnybrook’s regular golf course near 17 Mile and Van Dyke.

Motor City Chain Gang has held tournaments on temporary disc courses there in the past, but this will be a permanent one, he said, musing dreamily about the possibilities of larger-scale tournaments or events that combine disc golf, “ball golf” and bowling.

For more information on donating or assisting with the Nelson Park South disc golf course, call Minicuci at (248) 515-0350 or the Parks and Recreation Department at (586) 446-2700.